Nancy Benge Phipps. That name may not mean much to you, but that name will forever warm my heart and set my spine in a block of ice. That name belongs to the lady who brought me into this world, soon to be 26 years ago. She is my mother, and I am forever grateful. On the day I write this blog, she would have been turning 63 years young. She is the first one who shaped me, molded me, inspired me and taught me. She was my rock, if only briefly in my life. Below, I will tell you mom’s story, and I will tell you about five very special women in my life who carry on mom’s legacy in their journeys and what they do, and I will close this blog with a letter, written not by me, but by a son or daughter to their mother, under the auspices of better late than never.
November 6, 1959 was when her journey started, under less than ideal circumstances. Mom was the product of her mother, my granny, being raped, when she was just 15 years old. Her arrival into this world could have easily not happened. And in another realm or time or place, it may not have happened. But November 6, 1959, it did. Back against the wall, from birth. But nobody could back Nancy Phipps into a corner, for damn sure. Mom grew up as most children in rural northwestern North Carolina did in the 1960s and 1970s: Without adequate means, but she always made do with what she had, and always was able to pull a lot out of a little. That was and still is the way of many in the High Country of North Carolina. She was an excellent student in her school days, receiving high marks and higher praise by those she had as teachers. I still have a couple of her notebooks, many pages covered in meticulous notes.
Mom’s first job out of high school was at the Bantam Chef, one of the many greasy spoons in the little town of Jefferson, North Carolina, where her and I were born. It was here that she first caught the attention of my father, and a relationship began. May 28, 1982, the relationship culminated in a marriage that lasted to the day mom left this life for the next one. After several years of trying, on November 25, 1996, yours truly was born. It was I that first gave mom that very badge. And blessed I was, coming under her tutelage and care, and likewise my brother Evan, who came along a little over two years later, on December 28, 1998. Mom gave her all and at least 110% more to the both of us. She loved u with her entire heart, and did her level best to protect us best she could from the world and what all it can and will throw at you. And she did this to perfection. Even when the bottom dropped out.
In 2001, on a date that I don’t remember and honestly don’t care to remember, mom sat us down and broke the news to myself and Evan: She had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and that she could die as a result. I hugged her neck like I never had. I cried harder that day than I ever had. It was at the age of 4 or 5 that I first caught a glimpse of what mom was trying to protect myself and Evan from: The harsh reality of life, one of the millions of them dealt to each of us in time. Over the next 3 years, I saw sights and felt feelings no small child or grown adult should ever have to see or experience.
The sight of mom pinned to the couch, not having the energy to do so much as move.
The sight of mom and dad fighting, and getting her getting hit by the man you viewed as your father.
The sight of mom ordering, getting mailed and trying on various wigs, as her beautiful hair slowly but surely fell out due to chemo.
The sight of mom lying in a hospital bed, unable sometimes to keep her eyes open, as every morsel of energy got ripped out of her over time.
The sight of the many face masks and hospital wrist bands, demented souvenirs of the many trips to Boone hospital.
And the sight of a school full of eyes looking at me, when mom’s valiant battle ended.
February 18, 2004. A Wednesday. I remember waking up that morning to the sight of some men in suits setting up a small table in the living room. They were from the funeral home. On the small table was a book, for visitors to sign their names. They told me that mom had lost her battle with ovarian cancer. I refused to believe it. And maybe in some twisted, circuitous way, I still don’t believe it. But whether or not I decided to dwell in fantasyland, the cold reality was that my rock was gone. It did not crumble. Nancy Phipps did not crumble under those unique and hellish pressures. But it left me. The bottom dropped out from under my feet. At 7 years old, my world went dark and forever changed.
I spent several months afterward just trying to make it make sense that she was gone. I swore up and down this wasn’t real. I do not remember mom’s funeral or when we buried her. In a reverse way, I am glad that the waters of time eroded those memories away. But I remember the feelings. The moments. Hearing certain songs on the radio. Clinging to the memories of her I did have. The smells of fresh bread baking, something she loved to do. Taking comfort in friends in and their parents, including Angie Salmons, the mother of my friend Kierra, who took me and Evan in as if she were one of her own, even though she herself was deep in the throws of her own valiant battle against breast cancer. Remembering rides in the red 1994 Oldsmobile we had. Her taking me to the grocery store with her, and thinking the Lowe’s Foods in our town was so expansive. It looked like a skyscraper inside and out, to my child mind. Remembering how mom loved to watch NASCAR races on television, and how she loathed listening to them on the radio. The quilts she loved to knit. The food she made, that she aced every time, without fail. Hugging her. Telling her I loved her. How I wish I could do it all, just one more time. 44 years young. It wasn’t fair, and it isn’t fair now. But it is life. And mom would want me to move on. And I have. Or I’d like to think I have, even though the battle scars I bear from that time period may never fully heal. The milestones me and Evan have reached and will reach…….they are sweet, but also tainted with the bitter taste of knowing she isn’t present for them, and never will be. Me and Ev graduating. Evan getting married. Me publishing my first poetry book and putting out my first album. But the memories live on. And somewhere, some way, somehow, she is there. Even if we cannot see her, she is there.
I may not have her valiance and love and care in a physical form, but I for sure see it in those around me. In six ladies in particular, I see it. Six bright, razor sharp and valiant ladies in their own right. Each carries a piece of what mom embodied, and it is because of this that I gravitated toward them.
The first of these valiant ladies is my best friend, Renee Yaworsky. I first befriended Renee the day after my 24th birthday, in November of 2020. I right away noticed that the beauty of her heart and spirit matched exactly that of mom’s. This would only become exemplified, as I found out about the health struggles Renee so bravely fought and is currently fighting. I saw in Renee’s soul that it carried 10 pounds of mom’s strength and bravery in a 2 pound sack. My jaw was on the floor, and a tear was in my eye when Renee told me her story, as it so closely paralleled my own. I couldn’t believe it. It was as if I was looking into a mirror, and I was seeing mom’s reflection. I gravitated toward Renee, and it connected even more when I found out Renee so loves to wear wigs, or hair-hats as she calls them! Mom courageously rocked the wigs she owned, and I am sure she would have smiled had she seen Renee’s collection of them. From the valiance grew a friendship, which has become a close friendship, and a working, creative partnership, which has so enriched me.
To Renee, I thank you for carrying mom’s torch with such dignity and courage and respect, and for being my light on a dark corner. ❤
The next of these incredible ladies is one of the co-founders of this very site, Em Farwell. Em I came to know through Renee, after we had brought her aboard to help us in Cosmos Creative TV, the wide-spanning array of digital programming Re and I put together. I very quickly noticed how Em ran things: Tight and concise, just as mom had been in the doings in her own life. Like Renee, I soon found out about the various health battles Em faces on the daily, and how she is fighting and overcoming them. After I told my story, Em quickly took me under her wing, and made me one of her own. It’s as if God and mom each put a hand on her shoulders and guided her toward me. With Em’s encouragement, love and support, I am now charting a course to helping heal a lot of the wounds that I received in those times when I was lost in that deep, dark jungle, and was unsure of how and when I was going to get out.
To Em, I thank you for showing me a path forward, and for teaching me that it’s OK to not be OK, and for holding my feet to the fire. ❤
The next of these shining, sparkling souls is Diane Marie Coll. Diane is someone I met through Kimono My House, a virtual concert group on Facebook. As wonderful a singer, songwriter, comedienne and show host as she is, she is also a wonderful therapist, and a close and cherished confidant. When the bottom fell out for me mentally over the summer, Diane was one of the first to pick up the broken pieces of my soul and rearrange them into something presentable again. She loved me at a point when I could not, would not love myself. And moreso than that, she presented me with options and resources, and was firm but kind in her insistence that I seek help, after many years of brushing it off. And am I ever glad I listened. It was Diane’s holding me accountable and spearheading the necessary changes that got me started down the path to self-betterment, and I cannot wait to take those first big leaps!
To Diane, I thank you for being part drill sergeant and part cheerleader, and for encouraging me to see things in a completely different light. ❤
Th next of these clear, powerful voices is Sandie Dee. Sandie is another person I met via an online concert group on Facebook, this one being Socially Distant Fest. There have been few who have encouraged me and waved the pom-poms and drove the hype train for me quite like Sandie has. What she has been as a supporter, she also has been for my best interests. Sandie is a persistent, driving force in my life, and is always looking out for me and wanting what’s best for me. She’s a splitting image of mom in this regard, and I am forever grateful for this. Like Em, she has taken me in as one of her own, and although Sandie and I butt heads from time to time, it’s always from a place of love, kindness and wanting. Sandie has been there for me for so long, and her kindness and support has been greatly encouraged.
To Sandie, I thank you for always being here, and for making sure I am taken care of. ❤
The next of these human roses is Corrie Lynn Green. Corrie is another one I came to know from Socially Distant Fest, and to chronicle her journey is to have it run parallel with mom’s. Like mom, she valiantly fought cancer, in her case breast cancer. And like mom, she fought this awful disease tooth and nail. And Corrie Lynn whipped that bear. And she decided to sing out in joy. Corrie has just released an album of music from my beloved Appalachia, and like mom, Corrie loves to sing, and her voice fills me with joy. Mom would be so proud of Corrie and how she has fought and continues to fight for others, even though her battle is won. Precious is the souls who can continue to shout and advocate for those who are fighting cancer in place of mom, and Corrie’s is one I hold in the uppermost echelon of my being.
To Corrie Lynn, thank you for being a voice to those fighting, and for encouraging me to find my own, in the Blue Ridge hills. ❤
To conclude this tribute to those in my life who carry mom’s legacy, I will honor my friend Jaime Bennett. Jaime is someone I came to know a little later down the pike, though also from Socially Distant Fest. I had the pleasure and honor of directing Jaime’s show called The Warrior Within, and in that show, Jaime would always touch on a topic that was near and dear to her heart. In directing these episodes, and hearing her tell stories of things almost unimaginable happening to her over her life, it made me cry to know that she had fought many of the same battles mom had fought in her time. While Jaime’s battles align a lot with ones I have fought in my own life, it drew me that much closer to Jaime to see the battles of mom’s that she has fought, and all of them so fiercely and valiantly.
To Jaime, thank you for showing me that my battles are valid, and that I can indeed talk them out without fear of judgement. ❤
In closing, I will include a letter. This letter was not of my own hand, but is influenced by me. It is a variation of a letter that Paul Harvey read on a Father’s Day broadcast many years ago, and one that I changed slightly to be from the point of view of a son or daughter writing to their mother. The letter reads as follows:
I am writing this to you, even though you have been dead for 30 years. Whether you can read these lines, perhaps you can read my thoughts, but there is still some things I need to say, even if it’s too late.
Now that my own hair is gray, I remember how yours got that way. I was such an ass, mom……..Foolishly believing in my own teenage wisdom, when I know now I would have benefitted most from the calm, right, wholesome wisdom of yours.
Most of all, now that I have children of my own, I want to confess my greatest sin against you, the feeling I had, for which you did not understand. Though when I look back now, I know that you did understand. You understood me better than I did my own self……How patient you were, and how futile your efforts to get close to me, to win my confidence, to be my guardian angel were. I wouldn’t let you. I simply wouldn’t let you. What was it that held me aloof? I’m not sure, but despite my best efforts, my own children had to build the same wall between them and I. And there’s no way I can climb over it or go through it, and what a shame, what a waste.
I wish you were here now, across this table from me. There’d be no wall now. We’d both understand, now. And God, mom, how I do love you, and how I dearly wish I could be your companion again. Well…….maybe that day isn’t far off. I’m guessing you’ll be there, waiting to take me by the hand and lead me up the further slope. I’ll put in the first thousand years or so, making you realize that not one pang of yearning, not one morsel of thought, not one second of worry you spent on me was wasted, it all came back, and it all paid off eventually.
I know that the richest, most priceless thing on earth and one of the least understood things is that mighty love and tenderness and that everlasting craving to help that a mother feel toward her little ones. But none of her children can realize this until the roles are reversed. Even now, mom, I’m tired, weak and longing, and would hasten to join up there in the Great Beyond, except for my children…….They’re all fine, sweet, caring and upstanding young ones, all very capable, self-sufficient, highly talented and loving toward all. But, mom, I reckon I’ll stand by a little longer, to help them along, and to watch them shoot for the moon and land among the stars, and to be there for them, if they ever need me. You understand.
Your loving child
I hope this blog finds you well, and in the comments, please feel free to share memories of your own mother, whether she is still with us or not.
Take care, much love, and may God richly bless,